Obadiah Overview: Vengeance and Victory

9th Century Prophets 8th Century Prophets 7th Century Prophets Exilic Prophets Post-exilic Prophets
Obadiah
Joel
Amos
Hosea
Jonah
Isaiah
Micah
Nahum
Zephaniah
Habakkuk
Jeremiah/Lamentations
Ezekiel
Daniel
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi

Introduction

1. Name

The book is named after its prophetic author, Obadiah, whose name means “worshipper or servant of Yahweh.”

2. Theme

Edom will fall and Judah will rise.

3. Purpose

To encourage Judahites facing trouble from Edom to hope in divine justice and for eventual victory over all enemies.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1456.[/footnote]

4. Key verses

For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head (Obadiah 15).

And saviors shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD’S (Obadiah 21).

5. Key truths

• God cares for his people when they suffer
• God warns but will eventually judge those who persecute His people
• God will give victory to His people
• God’s faithful people will inherit the kingdom of God in its fullness.[footnote]Ibid.,1456.[/footnote]

 

I. Author

The book names Obadiah as the author. However we have little or no further information about his time, family background or geographical location. Although at least a dozen individuals are called by the name Obadiah in the Old Testament, none of them are thought to be the prophet of this book.
Obadiah has been called “the herald of the unshakeable kingdom,” “the antagonist of Edom,” and “the censurer of ridicule.”[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition[/footnote]  

II. Date

Since the book makes no explicit claim regarding a date, we can only infer a date from the internal evidence. However, there is no consensus even among conservative scholars. Some hold to an early date of about 845 BC. Others think the setting of the book is the Babylonian destruction of Judah in 586 BC.
It would be fair to say that today most scholars seem to hold to a sixth century BC date, either early in the exilic period or later in the same century. The evidence used to support this view is the prophet’s condemnation of Edom for rejoicing in and taking advantage of Jerusalem’s fall (Obad. 11-16). That this happened in 586 BC is noted in other biblical passages (Ps. 137:7; Lam. 4:21-22).
Arguments for an earlier date are as follows:

a. That Obadiah prophesied after a sack of Jerusalem is clear from Obad. 10–11. The sack which he describes, however, is not catastrophic enough to be the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

b. Not one of the six characteristic marks of the 586 BC destruction of Jerusalem appears in Obadiah. Those six characteristics are:

• The razing of the walls (2 Ki. 25:10; Jer. 52:14)
• The burning of the royal palaces and all houses (2 Ki. 25:9; Jer. 52:13)
• The burning of the temple (2 Ki. 25:9; Jer. 52:13)
• The capture and deportation to Babylon of the king (2 Ki. 25:7)
• The deportation of the entire nation with few exceptions (2 Ki. 25:11,12)
• The emigration of the Jews to Egypt (2 Ki. 25:26; Jer. 41:16-42:22).

Obadiah 11 does not portray a captivity as severe as what was brought upon the city at that time. For instance, Obadiah 11 speaks of strangers carrying captive Judah’s “forces,” suggesting only military people, while Nebuchadnezzar took away the general populace; and the same verse speaks of foreigners entering into the gates of Jerusalem and casting lots upon the city rather than bringing the full destruction that was effected by the Babylonians. It is sometimes argued that this captivity is referred to in Obadiah 20, where a larger, more general captivity is said to be implied. This, however, does not necessarily follow, because the word for “captivity” there is galut, which, as Archer says, may refer merely to the capture of single individuals or limited groups of people.’[footnote]L W Wood, The Prophets of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999), 263.[/footnote]

c. The book may be justifiably associated with events during the reign of Jehoram (2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8-10) when the Edomites cooperated with the Arabian-Philistine invasion as subordinate allies, and shared in the booty of Jerusalem when it fell to their combined efforts (c. 845 BC). God let this happen to chastise Judah for their alliance with the idolatrous North. Jehoram, the King of Judah, had married into Ahab’s family and allowed the worship of Baal in Judah.

d. Obadiah mentions Ephraim in such a way as to suggest that the northern kingdom was still standing.

e. The position of the book in the canon – fourth in the Hebrew Bible, fifth in the Septuagint – suggests that Obadiah should be classified as one of the earlier Minor Prophets.

f. Jeremiah, who prophesied just before the fall of Jerusalem, seems to quote from Obadiah 9 (Jer. 49:7-22, esp Jer. 49:14-16).

Obadiah could hardly have borrowed from Jeremiah, for he expresses his sentiments more briefly and rapidly than does Jeremiah and in part also more heavily and abruptly. By smoothing down the rugged places in Obadiah’s style of expression, Jeremiah shows himself to have been the adapter rather than the original source, and as adapter he has made the whole oracle more lucid and perspicuous.[footnote]G L Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody Press, 1998), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

g. Other prophetic books from the same time show evidence of Edom’s hostility to Israel (Amos 1:6; Joel 3:19-21).

We cannot be sure which event occasioned this book. Whatever the exact occasion, in a day when Judah had been brought low by military invasion and mocked by ancient enemies, Obadiah stepped forward to announce that the kingdom of God ultimately would be triumphant.

 

III. Historical Analysis

1. Chronology

In our discussion of the book’s date we proposed that the prophecy be located around 845 BC. The main events around this time were.

Date (BC) Event Scripture reference
849-843 Jehoram, King of Judah reigned over Judah 2 Ki. 8:16-24
2 Chron. 21:18,19
845 Arabs and Philistines invaded Judah and plundered the temple to the Edomites’ delight 2 Ki. 8:20-22
845-? Obadiah’s ministry Obadiah

2. The Edomites

Some prophets were commissioned to preach to foreign nations closely involved with Judah’s history. Obadiah was God’s messenger to Edom. This narrow strip of land was also known as Seir (Gen. 32:3; Gen. 36:20-21,30; Num. 24:18). Two major north-south trade routes passed through the region. The goods and commodities of Europe, Asia, and Africa were carried along these roads. The tolls and taxes levied on these caravans provided the foundation for Edom’s income.

The Edomites felt militarily secure in the fortresses of their steep mountains and red-rock canyons (Obad. 3). As a nation it became a symbol of arrogant self-confidence.

There was a long history of hostile contact between Israel and Edom going right back to Jacob and Esau. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau (Gen. 36:1,9) the brother and antagonist of Jacob/Israel. After the Exodus, Edom denied Israel the right of passage through her land (Num. 20:14-21; Jdg. 11:17-18). Balaam predicted that Edom would be conquered but Israel would grow strong (Num. 24:18). From King Saul down to King Ahaz in the mid 8th century, Edom and Israel frequently clashed, with each side having varying degrees of success. During the period of Assyrian and Babylonian domination, Edom was reduced to vassal status under these great powers. When Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, Edom either co-operated or at least took advantage of the situation by raiding Judah and Jerusalem. Edom eventually disappeared as a nation before the advent of Christ.

 

IV. Literary Analysis

1. Comparative Outlines

Archer Pratt Murray

Coming destruction of Edom
(Obad. 1–9)

Cause of Edom’s judgment
(Obad. 10–14)

Coming day of the Lord
(Obad. 15–21)

Sentences against Edom
(Obad. 1-9)

Accusations against Edom
(Obad. 10-14)

Announcement of New Order
(Obad. 15-20)

God’s Vengeance on Esau
(Obad. 1-16)

God’s Victory for Jacob
(Obad. 17-21)

a. God’s vengeance on Esau (Obad. 1-16)

Sentences against Edom (Obad. 1-9)

Accusations against Edom (Obad. 10-14)

International Judgment to Come (Obad. 15-16)

b. God’s victory for Jacob (Obad. 17-21)

Judah’s Restoration (Obad. 17)
Judah’s original borders restored

Judah’s Expansion (Obad. 18-20)
Borders will include land of their enemies

Judah’s Final Triumph (Obad. 21)
Saviors on Mt Zion.

The little word “but” in Obad. 17 marks the turning point for the book.

The structure of the Book of Obadiah serves to reinforce its message. The fall of proud Edom at the beginning (Obad. 1-11) is balanced by the rise of fallen Israel at the end (Obad. 17-21). At the centre of the book (Obad. 12-14) is God’s indictment of Edom’s sins, which serves to highlight the justice of God in all His actions against Edom and for Israel.

The placement of the good news for Judah at the end of the book, concluding the book on a “good note,” indicates that the author’s purpose is to encourage and console a Judean audience who may still be reeling from an atrocity that called Yahweh’s justice into question. In this sense, the Book of Obadiah may be categorized as a theodicy (a study of God’s justice), since it, like Habakkuk, Nahum, and Job, seeks to defend the ultimate rightness of Yahweh’s actions. Obadiah’s message is this: it may appear for the moment that evil has triumphed: but be assured, in the end Yahweh will right all wrongs. Yahweh is still in control: and he is worthy of Israel’s trust.[footnote]D Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 289.[/footnote]

2. Oracles against the nations

From earliest times, prophets were called to address not only Israel but also foreign nations (Ex. 3:10; Jer. 1:5,10). With the exception of Hosea and Haggai, all the prophetic books contain oracles against foreign nations (eg. Isa. 13-23; Jer. 46-51). Where Obadiah differs is that the whole book is given over completely to addressing a foreign nation, Edom.

These oracles against the nations reflect the prophets’ role as messengers of the Divine Warrior as he prepares for Holy War. During the monarchical period Israel’s prophets were actively involved when the nation went to war. They announced whether it was God’s will that they should go into battle and also gave instructions regarding how the battle should be conducted.

The oracles against foreign nations are extensions of prophetic involvement in warfare; instead of the nitty-gritty details of particular historical battles, the prophets address the Divine Warrior’s intent to nations near and far. It is Holy War transferred to a more verbal plane. The customary speech before the battle becomes an oracle against a foreign power when the armies are not actually arrayed on the field for combat.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 1389.[/footnote]

3. The last word

“The kingdom shall be the Lords” (Obad. 21). Most prophetic books begin with sin and judgment with bright Messianic prophecies towards the end. From a rock that fails (Obad. 3) to a kingdom that endures, from false security to true sovereignty. From Judah persecuted (then judgment of the nations) to Judah restored. Judah passes through many sad phases before her salvation appears: small (Obad. 2), slaughtered (Obad. 9), shame (Obad. 10), swallowed (Obad. 16), saviors (Obad. 21). This is the bottom line of all history – struggles fade from view and we see the kingdom of God triumphant. These words are the pole star to guide God’s people through days of doubt and darkness.

The rest of prophetic literature is to a certain extent an exposition of the last line of Obadiah. Daniel declared to Nebuchadnezzar: “The God of heaven shall set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed” (Dan 2:44). To the pitiful remnant which returned from the captivity Zechariah would declare: “Yahweh shall be king over all the earth” (Zech 14:9). The angel declared to Mary that Christ would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:33). The volume of sacred literature concludes with these similar declarations: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ; and he will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns” (Rev 19:6).[footnote]J E Smith, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

 

V. Thematic Analysis

1. Edom’s sins

a. Pride (Obad. 3-4): small nation but great boaster.

b. Confederacy (Obad. 7): the Edomites allied with the surrounding nations to oppress Jerusalem

c. Violence (Obad. 10): Did nothing to prevent attack on Jerusalem and encouraged those who actually did the damage

d. Rejoicing (Obad. 12): Edom should have been weeping over his brother’s calamity, but instead he was rejoicing

e. Looting (Obad. 13): they took advantage of the plight of the Jews and robbed the city of its wealth

f. Hindering the Jews from escaping (Obad. 14): blocked and captured escapees

g. Drunken celebration (Obad. 16): the Edomites got to the wine supplies and held a great celebration

2. Edom’s punishment

“As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head” (Obadiah 15).

a. They were traitors to the Jews; therefore their own confederates would betray them (Obad. 7)

b. They plundered and looted, so their nation would be robbed (Obad. 5-6)

c. Edom was violent, so they would be cut off completely (Obad. 9-10)

d. Edom wanted the Jews to be destroyed, so she would be destroyed by Babylon (Obad. 10,18)

e. Edom had cut down the survivors in Judah but she will be left without survivors (Obad. 14,18)

f. Edom had occupied Judah’s territory (Obad. 13,16) but ultimately would be governed from Mt Zion.

Edom had reached the “point of no return.” She is offered no hope of salvation.

Obadiah’s predictions about Edom were fulfilled in every detail. During the Babylonian supremacy, Edom was involved in a conspiracy against Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27:1-3,8-10; etc.). Five years after the destruction of Jerusalem the people were driven from their rocky homes when Nebuchadnezzar, passing down the valley of Arabah which formed the military road to Egypt, crushed the Edomites. When the Jews were restored to Jerusalem, Cyrus King of Persia conquered Edom and slaughtered thousands of her people. The Edomites lost their existence as a nation in the middle of the second century B.C., when they were crushed by the Maccabees, and their name perished at the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans: ‘As you have done, it shall be done to you; your reprisal shall return upon your own head’ (Obad. 15). They will receive the just recompense for their evil committed against Israel.[footnote]G Crossley, The Old Testament Explained and Applied (England: Evangelical Press, 2002), 684.[/footnote]

3. Edom as a type

Edomites were regarded by the prophets as typical of the malignant foes of Israel who hated and opposed all that Israel stood for in their witness to the one true God. Thus, Edom became typical of the corrupt, hate-ridden world, ripe for divine judgment. Edom is specifically addressed in Obad. 1-14, but this widens out in Obad. 15-16 to include the judgment on all nations.

Edom has assumed the features of the exilic paradigm of the enemies of the people of God. In typical Old Testament presentation, a historical incident is seen in terms of wider eschatological dimensions…Edom’s punishment will merely be an example of Yahweh’s typical holy-war intervention (Obad. 15-16). The movement toward eschatology grows more direct with the mention of the Day of the Lord, and the prophecy now turns from history to final prospect for the people of God.[footnote]W J Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 200.[/footnote]

4. The Abrahamic Covenant

Every nation’s destiny depended on its attitude to Israel. “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” (Gen. 12:3). Edom’s punishment for its treatment of Israel is directly related to this divine promise to Abraham. You cannot mistreat God’s people and prosper.

Edom will be despised among the nations (Obad. 2). The same word was used to describe how Esau despised his birthright (Gen. 25:34). Esau was told that he (and his descendants, Edom) would serve his younger brother Jacob (and his descendants: Israel) (Gen. 25:23; Gen. 27:27-40). As we have already noted, Edom repeatedly rejected this role and repeatedly rebelled against Israel. However, Edom’s actions in this incident seem to have been beyond anything done before.

With the dynamic of the divine promises to Abraham and the blood relationship between Jacob and Esau as the literary backdrop for Obadiah, no wonder the sense of outrage at Esau’s treachery. Edom’s attack on Israel was more than simply a matter of international politics and opportunism: it was the betrayal of a brother and a strike against God’s plan for Edom established so many centuries ago when they came from Rebekah’s womb. This plan established in the distant past would yet be realized in the eschatological future: Edom will yet serve his brother as God had purposed.[footnote]R Dillard and T Longman III, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 390.[/footnote]

5. The sovereignty of God

The God of Israel is not the God of a single nation but the God of the whole earth. His word accomplishes His will whenever and wherever it is spoken. He orders the history of nations and reveals His will to his prophets.

Obadiah is essentially a contrast between false human security and true divine sovereignty. Edom’s question, “Who will bring me down to earth?” (Obad. 3) is answered by God: “I will bring you down” (Obad. 4). When Edom was deceived into believing that it was invincible, the Lord declared His intention to bring down the haughty nation.

6. The justice of God

The most prominent theme in the book is the retributive justice of God: “as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head” (Obad. 15).

The book of Obadiah portrays Edom’s day in the divine court, complete with arraignment, indictment, and sentence. This prophet of poetic justice describes how the Judge of the earth will overthrow the pride of Edom and restore the house of Jacob.[footnote]Nelson’s complete book of Bible maps and charts (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Electronic Edition.[/footnote]

The book compares two phases of the Day of the Lord, consisting of the Day of the Lord for Judah and the Day for the nations (in this case, Edom). Judah’s “day” had already occurred, and Edom had no compassion on him. Once Obadiah has dealt with the terrible realism of Judah’s Day of the Lord, he returns to the Day of the Lord for Edom (Obad. 15-18). Edom’s participation in that day of judgment was the central message of Obadiah.

7. The Victorious Kingdom

a. A safe place (Obad. 17): Many will find deliverance from judgment on Mt Zion, the symbol of spiritual Jerusalem (Gal 4:25f; Heb 12:22–25 ) and the church in heaven (Rev 21–22).

b. A holy place (Obad. 17a): Mt Zion is set apart from the world for a set-apart people.

c. A rich place (Obad. 17b): The house of Jacob shall possess their possession (Obad. 17c).

d. A united place (Obad. 18a): The divided kingdom of Jacob and Joseph will be reunited. Mt Zion will break down all barriers.

e. A victorious place (Obad. 18b): Mt Edom would be consumed as fire consumes stubble. This happened in time and will happen in eternity too.

Obadiah’s purpose here is not so much to describe the changing map of Palestine, as it is to depict in concrete terms the majestic progress of the kingdom of God. The inhabitants of Mt. Zion do not maintain a defensive mode. They go on the offensive to spread the message of salvation “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

8. The Victorious King (Obad. 21)

“Saviors shall come up on Mt Zion” (Obad. 21). Who are these “saviors”? The same word is used for those God raised up in the time of the Judges to rescue his people from foreign enemies (Judg. 3:9,15). So, the term may be used for all the political and spiritual leaders and deliverers who arose in the days subsequent to Obadiah. The Maccabean leaders who delivered Israel from the Gentiles in the inter-testamental period was a part-fulfillment of this. However, these saviors, were only shadows of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

VI. New Testament Analysis

1. The eternal law of returns (Obad. 15)

“For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matt. 7:2).

The book of Obadiah does not contain Messianic predictions that point directly to Christ, but the theme of divine judgment against those who persecute God’s people finds its final fulfillment in Christ.[footnote]Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 1456.[/footnote]

2. New Testament Edomites

New Testament Herods (Idumeans) were descended from the Edomites: one tried to kill Christ (Mat. 2:16f), another murdered John the Baptist, one was involved in Christ’s trial (Lk. 23:8), and another killed James (Acts 12).

3. Election

Paul defends God’s right to choose Jacob (Israel) and leave Esau (Edom) to be damned (Rom. 9:13).

4. Victory for Jacob

The prophetic hopes of restoration were initially fulfilled in Christ’s first coming, are now being fulfilled through the spread of the gospel and will come to complete fruition in Christ’s second coming (Rev. 11:15).

When Christians suffer at the hands of their enemies they must trust anew the God of Obadiah who will bring vengeance to their enemies and ultimate victory to His people.

 

VII. The Message of Obadiah

Original Message: Israel must trust the God of justice to bring victory to her and vengeance to her enemies
Present Message: The Church must trust the God of justice to bring victory to her and vengeance to her enemies.